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Puerto Rican migration to New York City

Puerto Rican migration to New York City
Notable Puerto Ricans who migrated to New York City

Top Row
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg • Jose Ferrer
Nicholas Estavillo
Bottom Row
Aída Álvarez • Herman Badillo • Nelson Antonio Denis

Puerto Ricans have both immigrated and migrated to New York City. The first group of Puerto Ricans immigrated to New York City in the mid-19th century when Puerto Rico was a Spanish Province and its people Spanish citizens and as such they were immigrants. The following wave of Puerto Ricans to move to New York City did so after the Spanish–American War in 1898.[1] Puerto Ricans were no longer Spanish subjects and citizens of Spain, they were now Puerto Rican citizens of an American possession and needed passports to travel to the mainland of the United States. That was until 1917, when the United States Congress approved Jones-Shafroth Act which gave Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico a U.S. citizenship with certain limitations. Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States however, were given full American citizenship and were allowed to seek political office in the states which they resided. Two months later, when Congress passed the Selective Service Act, conscription was extended to the Puerto Ricans both in the island and in the mainland.. It was expected that Puerto Rican men 18 years and older serve in the U.S. military [2] during World War I.[3] The Jones-Shafroth Act also allowed Puerto Ricans to travel between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland without the need of a passport, thereby becoming migrants. The advent of air travel was one of the principal factors that led to the largest wave of migration of Puerto Ricans to New York City in the 1950s, known as "The Great Migration". According to the 2010 census, Puerto Ricans represent 8.9 percent of New York City alone and 5.5% of New York State as a whole.[4] Over a million Puerto Ricans in the state, about 70% are present in the city, with the remaining portion scattered in the city's suburbs and other major cities throughout New York State. Although Florida has received some dispersal of the population, there has been a resurgence in Puerto Rican migration to New York and New Jersey[5][6] - consequently, the New York City Metropolitan Area has witnessed an increase in its Puerto Rican population from 1,177,430 in 2010 to a Census-estimated 1,265,712 in 2013,[7] maintaining its status by a significant margin as the most important cultural and demographic center for Puerto Rican Americans outside San Juan.


  • Early 19th century 1
  • Origins of the Puerto Rican Flag 2
  • World War I era 3
  • World War II and The Great Migration 4
    • Puerto Rican culture in New York 4.1
    • Puerto Rican music 4.2
  • 1950s 5
  • Nuyorican Movement 6
  • Late 20th century and early 21st century 7
  • Enclaves 8
    • Puerto Rican population in New York 8.1
    • 2010 Puerto Rican population by borough 8.2
  • Puerto Rican influence 9
  • Notable Puerto Ricans who migrated to New York 10
  • See also 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14

Early 19th century

Early Puerto Rican immigrants in New York City

During the 19th century, commerce existed between the ports of the East Coast of the United States and the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico. Ship records show that many Puerto Ricans traveled on ships that sailed from and to the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Many of them settled in places such as New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, many Puerto Ricans, such as Lieutenant Augusto Rodriguez, joined the ranks of military armed forces, however since Puerto Ricans were Spanish subjects they were inscribed as Spaniards.[8] The earliest Puerto Rican enclave in New York City was in Manhattan. Most of the Puerto Ricans who moved there came from well-to-do families or were people whose economic situation could permit them the luxury of traveling from the island to New York City by way of steamship, an expensive and long trip. Amongst the first Puerto Ricans to immigrate to New York City were men and women who were exiled by the Spanish Crown for their political beliefs and struggles for the cause of Puerto Rican independence. By 1850, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the only two remaining Spanish colonies in the New World. The Spanish Crown would either imprison or banish any person who promoted the independence of these two nations.[9] Two of these exiles were Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis who together founded "The Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico" in New York. They were the planners of the short and failed 1868 revolt against Spain in Puerto Rico known as El Grito de Lares.[10] Another prominent Puerto Rican who in 1871 immigrated to New York was Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, considered by many as the "Father of Black History". He too became a member of the "Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico" and was an outspoken promoter of not only the independence of Puerto Rico but of Cuba's also.[11]

Origins of the Puerto Rican Flag

Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee
(standing L-R) Manuel Besosa, Aurelio Méndez Martínez, and Sotero Figueroa (seated L-R) Juan de M. Terreforte, D. Jose Julio Henna and Roberto H. Todd

Four other Puerto Ricans who moved to New York because of political reasons were Manuel Besosa, Antonio Vélez Alvarado, Juan Ríus Rivera and Francisco Gonzalo Marín. These four Puerto Ricans joined the Cuban Liberation Army whose headquarters was in New York City.

Some sources document Francisco Gonzalo Marín with presenting a Puerto Rican flag prototype in 1895 for adoption by the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee in New York City. Marín has since been credited by some with the flag's design.[12] There is a letter written by Juan de Mata Terreforte which gives credit to Marin. The original contents of the letter in Spanish are the following:[13]

"La adopción de la bandera cubana con los colores invertidos me fue sugerida por el insigne patriota Francisco Gonzalo Marín en una carta que me escribió desde Jamaica. Yo hice la proposición a los patriotas puertorriqueños que asistieron al mitin de Chimney Hall y fue aprobada unánimemente."
Which translated in English states the following: The adaptation of the Cuban flag with the colors inverted was suggested by the patriot Francisco Gonzalo Marín in a letter which he wrote from Jamaica. I made the proposition to various Puerto Rican patriots during a meeting at Chimney Hall and it was approved unanimously.[13]

It is also believed that on June 12, 1892, Antonio Vélez Alvarado was at his apartment at 219 Twenty-Third Street in Manhattan, when he stared at a Cuban flag for a few minutes, and then took a look at the blank wall in which it was being displayed. Vélez suddenly perceived an optical illusion, in which he perceived the image of the Cuban flag with the colors in the flag's triangle and stripes inverted. Almost immediately he visited a nearby merchant, Domingo Peraza, from whom he bought some crepe paper to build a crude prototype. He later displayed his prototype in a dinner meeting at his neighbor's house, where the owner, Micaela Dalmau vda. de Carreras, had invited José Martí as a guest.[14]

In a letter written by Maria Manuela (Mima) Besosa, the daughter of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee member Manuel Besosa, she stated that she sewed the flag. This created a belief that her father could have been its designer.

Even though Marín presented the Puerto Rican Flag in New York's "Chimney Corner Hotel",[15] it may never be known who designed the current flag. What is known, however, is that on December 22, 1895, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee officially adopted a design which is today the official flag of Puerto Rico.

In 1897,

  • Puerto Rican Women
  • Puerto Rican migration within U.S.
  • History Puerto Rican migration

External links

  1. ^ "The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War". 2011-06-22. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  2. ^ "Puerto Rican Laborers During World War I". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  3. ^ "The World of 1898; The Spanish-American War". 2011-06-22. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  4. ^ a b 2010 census table
  5. ^ Cindy Y. Rodriguez (March 22, 2014). "Why more Puerto Ricans are living in mainland U.S. than in Puerto Rico". CNN. Retrieved March 22, 2014. 
  6. ^ Dolores Prida (June 8, 2011). "The Puerto Ricans are coming!". New York Daily News. Retrieved March 22, 2014. 
  7. ^ "American Fact Finder - Geographies: Metro/Micro Statistical Area - ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 27, 2014. 
  8. ^ "The Puerto Rican Diaspora: historical perspectives"; By Carmen Teresa Whalen, Víctor Vázquez-Hernandez; page 176; Publisher: Temple University Press; ISBN 978-1-59213-413-7; ISBN 1-59213-413-0
  9. ^ a b c d e "Palante History". 1917-03-17. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  10. ^ Ojeda Reyes, Félix, El Desterrado de París, pp. 94–104
  11. ^ [Antonio Vélez Alvarado, amigo y colaborador consecuente de Martí y Betances, Author: Dávila, Ovidio; pp. 11-13.; Publisher: San Juan, P.R. : Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (Institute of Puerto Rican Culture), 2002. (Spanish)]
  12. ^ "Latin America's Wars Volume I: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791-1899"; by Robert L. Scheina; Pg. 359; Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.; 1 edition (January 2003); ISBN 1-57488-449-2; ISBN 978-1-57488-449-4
  13. ^ a b Vida, pasión y muerte de Francisco Gonzalo Marín
  14. ^ Schomburg (Arthur A.) Papers, 1724-1895 (1904-1938)
  15. ^ "Francisco Marin". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  16. ^ "Historia militar de Puerto Rico"; by Hector Andres Negroni (Author); Pages: 305-06; Publisher: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario (1992); Language: Spanish; ISBN 84-7844-138-7; ISBN 978-84-7844-138-9
  17. ^ a b c "Immigration Puerto Rican/Cuban". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  18. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  19. ^ "Jones Act - Library of Congress". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  20. ^ "America's Defense". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  21. ^ Peters, Justin. Can Non-Citizens Join the Military?", by: Jeremy Derfner""". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  22. ^ "Pioneros Puertorriqueños en Nueva York"; by Joaquin Colon Lopez; pages: 229, 230; Publisher: Arte Publico Press (November 2001); ISBN 1-55885-335-9; ISBN 978-1-55885-335-5
  23. ^ "Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School"; By Michael C. Johanek, John L. Puckett; Page 66; Published 2007 Temple University Press; ISBN 1-59213-521-8
  24. ^ "East Harlem News". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  25. ^ a b "Great Depressions of the Twentieth Century, edited by T. J. Kehoe and E. C. Prescott". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  26. ^ "Puerto Rican Woman in Defense of our country". 1944-08-21. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  27. ^ "LAS WACS"-Participacion de la Mujer Boricua en la Seginda Guerra Mundial; by: Carmen Garcia Rosado; page 60; 1ra. Edicion publicada en Octubre de 2006; 2da Edicion revisada 2007; Regitro tro Propiedad Intectual ELA (Government of Puerto Rico) #06-13P-)1A-399; Library of Congress TXY 1-312-685.
  28. ^ "Images of America; Pioneros II-Puerto Ricans in New York City 1948-1998"; by: Virginia Sanchez Korrol and Pedro Juan Hernandez; ISBN 978-0-7385-7245-1
  29. ^ a b "American Journal of Economics and Sociology". 2006-07-03. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  30. ^ "Harlem Hell Fighters". 1918-09-29. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  31. ^ Historia del Beisbol en Puerto Rico
  32. ^ "The Columbia History of Latinos in the United States Since 1960"; By David Gregory Gutiérrez; pg. 98; Published 2004 by Columbia University Press; ISBN 0-231-11808-2
  33. ^ Popular Culture
  34. ^ "A South Bronx Latin Music Tale"; by ROBERTA L. SINGER AND ELENA MARTÍNEZ; CENTRO Journal; 7 Volume xv1 Number 1; spring 2004
  35. ^ Joey Gardner. "The History of Freestyle Music". Reproduced with permission of Tommy Boy Music & Timber! Records. Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  36. ^ "López, Jennifer - Music of Puerto Rico". Copyright © 2006, Evan Bailyn, All rights reserved. Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  37. ^ Puerto Rican Women
  38. ^ " - Puerto Rico". 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  39. ^ A 2004 Washington Post article on Lolita's life
  40. ^ ASPIRA=Our Founder Dr. Antonia Pantoja
  41. ^ Puerto Rican Day Parade
  42. ^ The Poetry Heritage of Puerto Rico
  43. ^ east Village
  44. ^ "New Immigrants in The Bronx - The Bronx County Historical Society" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  45. ^ "Puerto Rico Herald". Puerto Rico Herald. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  46. ^ "Government Census 1". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  47. ^ "Government Census 2". Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  48. ^ Dolores Prida (2011-06-08). "The Puerto Ricans are coming!". © Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Retrieved 2012-12-04. 
  49. ^ "Geographies - New York city, New York ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  50. ^ "Geographies: State - ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 27, 2014. 
  51. ^ "State & County QuickFacts New Jersey QuickLinks". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 15, 2013. 
  52. ^ "Geographies - New Jersey ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 15, 2013. 
  53. ^ "Geographies - Paterson, New Jersey ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 9, 2013. 
  54. ^ "Geographies - Newark, New Jersey ACS DEMOGRAPHIC AND HOUSING ESTIMATES 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 9, 2013. 
  55. ^ Cristina Loboguerrero, Via El Diario/La Prensa, translated by Carlos Rodríguez-Martorell from Spanish (May 12, 2014). "Three Hispanic Candidates Vie For Paterson, NJ Mayor". Voices of NY. Retrieved May 15, 2014. 
  56. ^ Joe Malinconico, Abbott Koloff, and Richard Cowen (May 14, 2014). "Joey Torres returns to Paterson mayor's seat". Retrieved May 15, 2014. 
  57. ^ Ted Sherman (November 4, 2013). "Luis Quintana sworn in as Newark's first Latino mayor, filling unexpired term of Cory Booker". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved November 10, 2013. 
  58. ^ "A Walk Around Brooklyn – Interactive Map". PBS. Retrieved May 4, 2009. 
  59. ^ "Walking Around – Williamsburg – Puerto Rican New York City's Ethnic Neighborhoods". 2004. Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  60. ^ Thabit, Walter; Frances Fox Piven (2006). How East New York became a ghetto (illustrated ed.). NYU Press. p. 36.  
  61. ^ Pascoe, Jessie (February 21, 2006). "Close-Up on Sunset Park, Brooklyn". The Village Voice. Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC. Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  62. ^ "All City New York: Ridgewood to Maspeth". February 21, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  63. ^ a b c "East Harlem History – 197-A Plan". East Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  64. ^ a b "Selling the Lower East Side – The Emergence of Loisaida". Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  65. ^ a b "2010 Census". Medgar Evers College. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  66. ^
  67. ^ Garcia, Jessica; Kristin Nieves-Ferreri (2001). "¿Hablas Spanish?: The Linguistic Culture of Bronx Puerto Ricans". Voices of New York. NYU. Retrieved May 5, 2009. 
  68. ^ "CITY ON A HILL: The South Bronx". Retrieved April 22, 2009. 
  69. ^ Puerto Rican New Yorkers in 1991
  70. ^ Chenault 1938: 72
  71. ^ Lapp 1990
  72. ^ Pantoja 2002: 93-108
  73. ^ Schwinge, Diana.
  74. ^ Kate Taylor (January 8, 2014). "Mark-Viverito Is Elected City Council Speaker". The New York Times. Retrieved January 8, 2014. 



See also

Notable Puerto Ricans who migrated to New York

Hostos Community College in the Bronx, was named after a Puerto Rican Eugenio Maria de Hostos, it originally founded as an all-Puerto Rican college. However, the college now accepts students of all races, it largely caters to Hispanics, with up to 80% of it's students being of Hispanic descent. Boricua College is another originally all-Puerto Rican college in Manhattan.[73]

Puerto Ricans in New York have preserved their cultural heritage by being involved actively in the different political and social rights movements in the United States. They founded "Aspira", a leader in the field of education, in 1961. Aspira is now one of the largest national Latino nonprofit organizations in the United States.[72] Other educational and social organizations founded by Puerto Ricans in New York and else where are the National Puerto Rican Coalition in Washington, DC, the National Puerto Rican Forum, the Puerto Rican Family Institute, Boricua College, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies of the City University of New York at Hunter College, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, and the New York League of Puerto Rican Women, Inc., among others.

In July 1930, Puerto Rico's Department of Labor established an employment service in New York City.[70] The Migration Division (known as the "Commonwealth Office"), also part of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor, was created in 1948, and by the end of the 1950s, was operating in 115 cities and towns stateside.[71] The Department of Puerto Rican Affairs in the United States was established in 1989 as a cabinet-level department in Puerto Rico. Currently, the Commonwealth operates the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has 12 regional offices throughout the United States.

Puerto Rican influence

New York City's total Puerto Rican population was 723,621 and they represented 8.9% of the population. The Puerto Rican population and the percentage Puerto Ricans make up of each borough, as of the 2010 census, is:[4]

2010 Puerto Rican population by borough

As of 1990, New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent (Nuyoricans), numbered 143,974. Nearly 41,800 state residents (Nuyoricans) in 1990 had lived in Puerto Rico in 1985. According to the Census taken in the year 2000, Puerto Rican migrants make up a 1.2% of the total population of the United States with a population of well over 3 million Puerto Ricans (including those of Puerto Rican descent). If taken into account together with the almost 4 million Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens (nevertheless, excluded by the U.S. Census statistics of U.S. population), Puerto Ricans make up about 2.5% of the total population of U.S. citizens around the world (inside and outside the U.S. mainland).[69]

Puerto Rican population in New York

Puerto Ricans are present in large numbers throughout the Bronx, the Bronx has the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans of any borough.[66] In some places in the South Bronx, Spanish is the primary language.[67] Throughout the 1970s, the South Bronx became known as the epitome of urban decay, but has since made a recovery.[68]

In New York and many other cities, Puerto Ricans usually live in close proximity with Dominicans and African Americans.[65] High concentrations of Puerto Ricans are also present in numerous public housing developments throughout the city.[65]

Staten Island has a fairly large Puerto Rican population along the North Shore, especially in the Mariners' Harbor, Arlington, Elm Park, Graniteville, Port Richmond & Stapleton neighborhoods, where the population is in the 20% range.

Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Manhattan include Spanish Harlem and Loisaida.[63][64] Spanish Harlem was "Italian Harlem" from the 1880s until the 1940s.[63] By 1940, however, the name "Spanish Harlem" was becoming widespread, and by 1950, the area was predominately Puerto Rican and African American.[63] Loisaida is an enclave east of Avenue A that originally comprised German, Jewish, Irish, and Italian working class residents who lived in tenements without running water; the German presence, already in decline, virtually ended after the General Slocum disaster in 1904. Since them, the community has become Puerto Rican and Latino in character, despite the "gentrification" that has affected the East Village and the Lower East Side since the late 20th century.[64]

Ridgewood, Queens, also has a significant Puerto Rican population, as does neighboring community Bushwick, Brooklyn.[62]

Brooklyn has several neighborhoods with a Puerto Rican presence, many of the ethnic Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Brooklyn formed before the Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the South Bronx because of the work demand in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the 1940s and 50s. Bushwick has the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in Brooklyn. Other neighborhoods with significant populations include Williamsburg, East New York, Brownsville, Coney Island, Red Hook, and Sunset Park.[58][59][60][61] In Williamsburg; Graham Avenue is nicknamed "Avenue of Puerto Rico" because of the high density and strong ethnic enclave of Puerto Ricans who have been living in the neighborhood since the 1950s. The Puerto Rican day parade is also hosted on the avenue.


New Jersey has also received a robust influx of Puerto Rican migration in the 21st century,[51][52] given its proximity to both New York City's and Philadelphia's Puerto Rican establishments. Within the metropolitan area surrounding New York City, Paterson[53] and Newark[54] in New Jersey are important homes for Puerto Rican Americans. Jose "Joey" Torres was elected mayor of Paterson in 2014, where he had served two prior terms as mayor as well;[55][56] while Luis A. Quintana, born in Añasco, Puerto Rico, was sworn in as Newark's first Latino mayor in November 2013, assuming the unexpired term of Cory Booker, who vacated the position to become a U.S. Senator from New Jersey.[57] However, as Puerto Ricans continue to climb the socioeconomic ladder and achieve a greater degree of professional occupations, the community is also purchasing homes in New Jersey's more affluent suburban towns.

However, in more recent years, there has been a resurgence in immigration from Puerto Rico to New York[48] and New Jersey, with an apparently multifactorial allure to Puerto Ricans, primarily for economic and cultural considerations. The Census estimate for the New York City, the city proper with the largest Puerto Rican population by a significant margin, has increased from 723,621 in 2010, to 730,848 in 2012;[49] while New York State's Puerto Rican population was estimated to have increased from 1,070,558 in 2010, to 1,103,067 in 2013.[50] Unlike the initial pattern of migration several decades ago, this second Puerto Rican migration into New York State is being driven by movement not only into New York City proper, but also into the city's surrounding suburban areas.

Puerto Rican migration patterns, 1995-2000 (graphic by Angelo Falcón)
1980s Chart showing the Puerto Rican migration movement in the United States

By 1964, the Puerto Rican community made up 9.3 percent of the total New York City's population. The Puerto Rican migrants who gained economic success began to move away from the "Barrios" and settled in Queens and Long Island or moved to other cities in other states.[43] New immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and South America moved into the Barrios which were once mainly occupied by the Puerto Ricans.[44] The 1970s saw what became known as reverse-migration. Many Puerto Ricans returned to the island to buy homes and to invest in local businesses. Puerto Ricans have made many important contributions to New York and the society of the United States in general. They have contributed in the fields of entertainment, the arts, music, industry, science, politics, and military.[45] Other Puerto Ricans have moved from New York to settle in smaller cities throughout the Northeast. For example, in 2009 Puerto Ricans alone made up 29.1% of Reading, Pennsylvania's population,[46] which was over 53% Hispanic, and 25.0% of Lawrence, Massachusetts' population, which was over 70% Hispanic.[47]

Late 20th century and early 21st century

Puerto Rican writer Jesús Colón founded an intellectual movement involving poets, writers, musicians and artists who are Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican descent and who live in or near New York City which became known as the Nuyorican Movement. The phenomenon of the "Nuyoricans" came about when many Puerto Ricans who migrated to New York City faced difficult situations and hardships, such as racial discrimination. A "Nuyorican" subculture developed. In 1980, Puerto Rican poets Miguel Algarín, Miguel Piñero and Pedro Pietri established the "Nuyorican Poets Café" on Manhattan's Lower East Side (236 E 3rd Street, between Avenues B and C) which is now considered a New York landmark.[42]

The Nuyorican Poets Café

Nuyorican Movement

The first New York Puerto Rican Day Parade was held on Sunday, April 12, 1958 in the "Barrio" in Manhattan. Its first President was Victor López and it was coordinated by José Caballero. The grand marshal was Oscar González Suarez, Esq. Prominent personalities from Puerto Rico headed by then Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, attended the initial parade. The parade was organized as a show of Puerto Rican pride and is a tradition which not only continues today in the city of New York but, that has also extended to other cities such as Chicago, Illinois and Orlando, Florida.[41] By 1960, the United States census showed that there were well over 600,000 New Yorkers of Puerto Rican birth or parentage. Estimates were that more than one million Puerto Ricans had migrated during that period.[9]

Many Puerto Ricans were able to overcome these obstacles and became respected members of their communities. Many such as [40]

Discrimination was rampant in the United States and it was no different in New York. As stated by Lolita Lebrón, there were signs in restaurants which read "No dogs or Puerto Ricans allowed". The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party established an office in New York in the 1950s and attracted many migrants. Leaders of the party conceived a plan that would involve an attack on the Blair House with the intention of assassinating United States President Harry S. Truman and an attack on the House of Representatives. These events had a negative impact on the Puerto Rican migrants. Americans viewed Puerto Ricans as anti-Americans and the discrimination against them became even more widespread.[39]

Operation Bootstrap ("Operación Manos a la Obra") is the name given to the ambitious projects which industrialized Puerto Rico in the mid-20th century engineered by Teodoro Moscoso. The industry that was attracted did not provide sufficient jobs. With increased population growth and displacement from traditional labor pursuits, the growing population could not be accommodated. Much of the surplus labor migrated to the United States. In 1948, Puerto Ricans elected their first governor Luis Muñoz Marín, who together with his government initiated a series of social and economic reforms with the introduction of new programs in the island. Some of these programs met some resistance from the American government and therefore, the local government had some trouble implementing the same.[38] New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. began a campaign to recruit Puerto Rican laborers in the island to work in the city's factories. Mayor Wagner figured that the city would benefit greatly by the luring of what was considered to be "cheap labor".[9]

External audio
You may watch scenes of a "New York Puerto Rican Day Parade" here
Ricky Martin at the annual Puerto Rican parade in New York City.

The third great wave of domestic migration from Puerto Rico came after World War II. Nearly 40,000 Puerto Ricans settled in New York City in 1946, and 58,500 in 1952–53. Many soldiers who returned after World War II made use of the GI Bill and went to college. Puerto Rican women confronted economic exploitation, discrimination, racism, and the insecurities inherent in the migration process on a daily basis, however they fared better than did men in the job market. The women left their homes for the factories in record numbers.[37] By 1953, Puerto Rican migration to New York reached its peak when 75,000 people left the island.[9]


New York City also became the mecca for freestyle music in the 1980s, of which Puerto Rican singer-songwriters represented an integral component.[35] Puerto Rican influence in popular music continues in the 21st century, encompassing major artists such as Jennifer Lopez.[36]

The South Bronx became a hub for Puerto Rican music. Theaters which had served to previous groups of immigrants, such as the Irish and the Italians, for their dramatic works or vaudeville style shows, now served the growing Puerto Rican and Latino population with musical performances from musicians from Puerto Rico and Latin America. Plus, the local Bronx's burgeoning Latino musicians. Among the most notable of these theaters were the historical Teatro Puerto Rico at E. 138th St. and Hunts Point Palace in Southern Blvd. During the Teatro Puerto Rico's "golden era", which lasted from 1947 to 1956, musicians such as Tito Puente, Machito, Tito Rodríguez, Vicentico Valdes, Marcelino Guerra, Arsenio Rodríguez, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Orlando Marin, Manny Oquendo, Ray Barretto, Barry Rogers, Johnny Pacheco, Joe Loco, Joe Quijano, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, José Feliciano and Miguel Poventud made their stateside debuts.[34]

Puerto Rican music flourished with the likes of Rafael Hernández and Pedro Flores who formed the "Trio Borincano" and gained recognition in the city. Myrta Silva who later joined Hernandez's "Cuarteto Victoria" also gained fame as a singer after the group traveled and played throughout the United States.[29][33]

Teatro Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican music

Puerto Ricans who moved to New York not only took with them their customs, traditions, they also took with them their piraguas, a Puerto Rican frozen treat, shaped like a pyramid, made of shaved ice and covered with fruit flavored syrup.[25][32] According to Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: by Winston James, piraguas were introduced in New York by Puerto Ricans as early as 1926.

Puerto Ricans began to form their own small "Barrios", in The Bronx, Brooklyn and in East Harlem (which would become known as Spanish Harlem).[30] It was in East Harlem where the Puerto Rican migrants established a cultural life of great vitality and sociality. They also participated in some of the sports, such as boxing and baseball which were first introduced in the island by the American Armed Forces after the Spanish–American War.[31]

A piragüero in NYC posing with his Piragua pushcart in the 1920s.

Puerto Rican culture in New York

In 1948, the Migration Division of the Department of Labor of Puerto Rico opened its office in New York City. Its mission was to mediate between the island and the New York/Puerto Rican community, assuage the adjustment experience of new arrivals, and generally inform them about jobs, housing and other critical concerns.[28] It wasn't long before the Puerto Rican "Barrios" in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem, Manhattan's Lower East Side and in Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue began to resemble "Little Puerto Ricos" with their "Bodegas" (small grocery stores) and "Piragueros" (Puerto Rican shaved ice venders) in every corner.[29] It is estimated that from 1946 to 1950 there were 31,000 Puerto Rican migrants each year to New York.

The advent of air travel provided Puerto Ricans with an affordable and faster way of travel to New York. The one thing that all of the migrants had in common was that they wanted a better way of life than was available in Puerto Rico, and although each held personal reasons for migrating, their decision generally was rooted in the island's impoverished conditions as well as the public policies that sanctioned migration.[17]

[27][26] in 1944, the Puerto Rican WAC unit, Company 6, 2nd Battalion, 21st Regiment of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, a segregated Hispanic unit, was assigned to the [9] The outbreak of World War II opened the doors to many of the migrants who were searching for jobs. Since a large portion of the male population of the U.S. was sent to war, there was a sudden need of manpower to fulfill the jobs left behind. Puerto Ricans, both male and female, found themselves employed in factories and ship docks, producing both domestic and warfare goods. The new migrants gained the knowledge and working skills which in the future would serve them well. The military also provided a steady source of income,

The Great Depression which spread throughout the world was also felt in Puerto Rico. Since the island's economy was and still is dependent to that of the United States, it was to be expected that when the American banks and industries began to fail the effect would be felt in the island. Unemployment was on the rise as a consequence and therefore, many families fled to the mainland U.S.A. in search of jobs.[25]

Several factors contributed and led to what came to be known as "The Great Migration" of Puerto Ricans to New York. These were the following: the Great Depression, World War II and the advent of air travel.

World War II and The Great Migration

[24] In 1937,

[23] As the economic situation in the United States worsened in a prelude to the

Nero Chen was one of the many Puerto Ricans who settled in East Harlem. He became the first Puerto Rican boxer to gain acclaim when in 1917 he fought against "Panama Joe Gans" at Harlem's Palace Casino which was located at 28 East 135th St., between 5th and Madison Avenues, in Manhattan.[22] As evidenced by an early 1924 poster, migrants in New York organized baseball teams which played against each other. The poster announces a game which was held at Howard Field in Brooklyn between two teams, the San Juan B.B.C. and the Porto Rican Stars, made of Puerto Ricans from the East Side section of Manhattan.

1924 Baseball Game between the San Juan BBC and Porto Rico Stars in New York

In 1917, the United States entered World War I and that same year the United States Congress approved the Jones-Shafroth Act which gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. Puerto Ricans no longer needed a passport to travel to the U.S. and were allowed to seek public office in the mainland U.S.[19] The economic situation in the island was bad and continued to worsen as a result of the many hurricanes which destroyed most of its crops. Many Puerto Rican families migrated to the United States, the bulk of which went to New York, in search of a better way of life.[17] In New York, they faced the same hardships and discrimination that earlier groups of immigrants, such as the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews, had faced before them. It was difficult for them to find well paying jobs because of the language barrier and their lack of technical working skills. The few men who found jobs worked for low salaries in factories. The women usually stayed home as housewives and tended to their children. Those who did not find jobs had the option of joining the United States Military.[20] Prior to the Jones-Shafroth Act, Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States as all other non-citizens, who were permanent residents were required to register with the Selective Service System by law and could be drafted,[21] however one of the effects of the Act was that all Puerto Ricans were now eligible for the military "draft" (conscription). One of the military units at that time was New York's U.S. 369th Infantry Regiment. Rafael Hernández was a Puerto Rican who served in the almost all Afro-American unit. The unit fought against the Germans in France and became known as the "Harlem Hell Fighters". Hernández, his brother Jesus and 16 other Puerto Ricans was assigned to the United States Army's Harlem Hell fighters musical band, the Orchestra Europe.

In 1902, the United States Treasury Department issued new immigration guidelines that changed the status of all Puerto Ricans to "foreigners." Isabel Gonzalez was a young single mother who was expecting her second child. Her fiance, who was in New York, sent for her with the intention of getting married. When Gonzalez arrived in New York, she and all the Puerto Ricans who were with her, were detained in Ellis Island and denied entry. She was accused of being an alien and as an unwed parent she was deemed as a burden to the welfare system of the country. Gonzalez challenged the Government of the United States in the groundbreaking case "GONZALES v. WILLIAMS' (her surname was misspelled by immigration officials). The Supreme Court ruled that under the immigration laws González was not an alien, and therefore could not be denied entry into New York. It also stated that Puerto Ricans were not U.S. citizens, they were "noncitizen nationals." Gonzalez, who became an activist on behalf of all Puerto Ricans, paved the way for the Jones-Shafroth Act, which conferred United States citizenship on all citizens of Puerto Rico.[18]

Cover of The San Juan News announcing the Supreme Court decision in the Isabel Gonzalez case of 1904.

World War I era

[17] The political immigration to New York practically came to a halt in 1898 after the Spanish–American War when Puerto Rico became a possession of the United States. It is estimated that 1,800 Puerto Rican citizens (they were not American citizens until 1917) had immigrated to New York during this period.[16]

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